Inappropriate(d) Literatures of the United States: Hegemonic Propriety and Postracial Racialization
MetadataShow full item record
The rise of multiculturalism and its impact on the U.S. academy reached its peak at the end of the twentieth century. Since then the rhetoric of liberal multiculturalism that valorized diversity has largely given way to a neoliberal multiculturalism that celebrates postracialism as a means to dismantle the institutional programs and critical discourses that took racial difference as their starting point. Yet the racially inflected demarcations between positions of privilege and positions of stigma that have historically characterized the U.S. nation-state remain intact. In this context, how do we read race in contemporary literature by U.S. ethnic writers when celebrations of colorblindness dominate public discourse? As a repository for what Foucault has called subjugated knowledges, minoritized literatures hold the potential to de-naturalize the neoliberal status quo, critique the academic discourse that surrounds it, and engage with the political economy within which it is produced. This project argues that the institutional work of disciplining minority subjects--once openly performed by racialization in a way no longer possible under neoliberal multiculturalism--has been continued in part by political, social, and economic forces I group under the umbrella term propriety. I expose how the designation "appropriate" becomes a prerequisite for political recognition and representation, analyzing representative political texts that are fundamental to contemporary definitions of minority subjects alongside national and literary-critical genealogies of discourses of difference. I argue that attachments to values and forms explicitly identified as "appropriate" conceal and maintain race-based hierarchies characteristic of U.S. national identity formation. In response, I theorize inappropriateness as a category of political and literary representation for exploring questions of visibility and enfranchisement central to the national narrative of the United States. Inappropriateness is a political and aesthetic movement that deploys subjects and forms often denounced as improper to the contemporary era. Inappropriate aesthetic works are those which attempt to distinguish difference from "diversity," influence minority subject formation, and shape knowledge production in ways that are counter to the objectives of neoliberal multiculturalism. Four chapters establish a taxonomy of the ways inappropriateness operates: formally, corporeally, nationally, and historically.